Photograph of the Week: Plan B in Boulder Creek…

The plan was to hike a 12-13 mile loop down Second Water to Boulder Creek then up the trail along the creek to return via Lost Dutchman Trail.  I was looking forward to hiking the creek and shooting some fun angles in Boulder Creek Canyon.

Normally, Boulder Creek is a thin stream that casually babbles it’s way down the canyon.  Crossing is not terribly difficult and the multiple creek crossings are part of the fun.  What I hadn’t really planned for the was the late Winter storm that rolled through Arizona (and much of the southwest) dumping tons of rain and dusting the local peaks with snow.  I stuck to my plan and headed out to Lost Dutchman State Park figuring I’d hike my designated route, in the rain if need be, and explore this part of the Superstition Mountain Wilderness.

When I hike, the “plan” isn’t much more than a loose sketch…an idea of where I’d like to end up depending entirely on what I might find along the way.  I try to allow a lot of wiggle-room in my agenda and very rarely think of my proposed route as “set in stone”.  Adaptability and flexibility are the name of the game.  My dad used to say something to the effect of, “Plan B makes for better stories”.  He was usually right.

I had to slog through muddy, mucky trails and cross many drainage washes running with water.  There had been so much rain, the ground was soft enough for me to sink a couple of inches with each step in places.  For a good section of the downhill side heading into Boulder Creek Canyon the drainage ran down the trail itself (very happy I had my waterproof boots with me on this one).  Once I reached Boulder Creek I realized I might need to rethink my plans.  The creek was swollen and brown with runoff and moving fast.  I had already passed one group that had turned back at the creek, but I wanted to see it for myself.

I tried desperately to follow my side of the creek looking for any sign of a trail, or a safe place to cross.  I followed a sole set of footprints up the boulder strewn creek fighting through vegetation until I was finally choked out.  I sat on a large boulder in the middle of the creek for a long time thinking about what I wanted to do.  As I munched on a snack bar, I considered the option of crossing the creek to look for the trail.  I considered heading up the canyon wall on my side to see if there was a trail higher up.  All of these considerations were sketchy at best and if the storm decided to let loose with another downpour I could find myself trapped on the wrong side of the creek or, worse, caught in a flash flood.

Eventually, I succumbed to reason and figured the smart thing for me (or anyone) hiking solo out in these conditions was to head back.  I reluctantly headed back the way I came, fighting through the same brush and still looking for a missed opportunity to cross the creek.  When I came back to where the original trail met the creek I tried my luck at crossing again but found nothing I deemed safe.  So I decided to make the best of it and get the camera equipment out to play with.

The storm hadn’t given me much of a sky to shoot.  It was very gray and overcast, very little definition and the light was diffused and too soft to create dramatic shadows.  My immediate thought was that it might be a good opportunity to play with slow exposure shots.  A slow exposure might give me a little boost of light in the scenery.  It would also allow me to play with the moving water effects that I always thought looked so cool.  I shot a few canyon shots then started playing with exposure times.  I took a few shots right down by the creek repeating the same shot with different exposure times to see what I would get.  The new shutter remote I got worked perfectly for being able to stabilize the camera on the tripod and get the shot without the risk of shaking the camera.

Photograph of the Week - Boulder Creek-Superstition Wilderness

Specifications:

  • This image was shot on a Nikon D300 with a Nikon Nikkor 10-28mm WA lens.
  • Exp: 1/5sec, F/29, ISO-200, 18mm.
  • Originally shot in RAW format and processed in Adobe Lightroom.

I eventually climbed up a small boulder cliff adjacent to the creek to get a better view of the canyon downstream.  I snapped a couple of shots then turned the camera around and shot almost directly below me catching a scene where the creek was choked with smaller, colored rocks and desert riparian shrubs.  The chocolate milk color of the storm-swollen creek softened the scene and when I slowed the exposure the movement of the water created a nice silky effect.  The result was magical.

This really turned out to be my personal favorite of this entire set.  I love the colors, I love the contrasts, I love the composition.  The lichen on the granite rock below me provided some really nice interest and texture to balance out the detail in the rocky side of the creek.  The movement of the water flows nicely in a diagonal across the composition dividing the two opposing scenes.  It just feels really nice to me.  I intend to have this one blown up on a tall canvas wrap for my office.

If I had not been forced to abandon Plan A and turn back, this shot would never have happened.  I’m happy to see where Plan B took me.

More Images from Boulder Creek…

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Bear Mountain – Sedona, Arizona…

I am forcing myself to get outdoors.  

This summer’s heat in Phoenix has been miserable for me.  I don’t know why it feels so much more oppressive and suffocating than summers past, but it does.  More than I have in a long time, I find myself hiding inside and making excuses.  I don’t like excuses.

After a great week in Pennsylvania, where the weather was significantly better, I felt energized…recharged.  I also returned to Phoenix to find the weather was a little more reasonable and a storm system was providing some much needed cloud cover in the mornings.  So, for the first time this summer, I had a solid week of outdoors activity and I didn’t want it to stop.  So as the heat rose, I planned to head up north and get some trail time in around my new favorite stomping grounds…Sedona.

Originally, I was looking for a nice long canyon hike that would allow me to amble along in the shade of the high red-rock walls.  I day-dreamed of running along a dusty canyon trail through Cottonwoods, Junipers and Pine trees.  This, unfortunately, would continue to be a dream as I did my pre-trip research and found that afternoon thunderstorms were forecast for the weekend in Sedona.  Monsoon season thunderstorms in Arizona mean flash floods and a secluded canyon is not where you want to be.  So, as often happens…change of plan.

I browsed my Sedona Trail Map and found a few interesting options that seemed far enough off the beaten path to offer some solitude.  Early Sunday morning, I got myself packed and headed north out of town.  Sunday was also National Hammock Day, so part of my goal for the day was to find a good place to hang my ENO and soak in some classic Sedona views.

driving up 179

In Sedona, I made my requisite stop at The Hike House to review trail options and take a look at their gear selection.  Deb met me at the door and ushered me in to show off some of the new gear and chat.  Then we looked over the map and she agreed that it would be a bad time to do any canyon hiking.  In lieu of a canyon hike I wanted to summit something.  Wilson Mountain was out of the question because it would get hit the hardest by any lightning and monsoon rains.  I asked about a small, strenuous hike on the west end of town that climbed up into the southwestern corner of the Red Rock Secret Mountain Wilderness.

Bear Mountain summit trail is only a 5 mile hike round-trip.  That would make it a much shorter distance than I wanted to hike but with nearly 2,000 ft of elevation gain in the 2.5 miles to the summit, it is strenuous.  Knowing it was a summit hike and storms were due to make their way in, I grabbed a cookie (thanks, Deb!) and headed toward the trailhead.

Bear Mountain as seen from the trailhead

There were a few cars parked at the lot that serves as the trailhead for both Bear Mountain and the much shorter Doe Mountain hike.  There is a decent sized parking lot and restrooms here.  There is also an automated pay-station for the Red Rock Day passes (I don’t think the passes are required anymore, but for $5 it was better to have it and not need it).

Cactus at the start of the trailThis mountain looks much different on paper than it does in person.  On paper, there are a couple of obvious climbs but I was not expecting the exciting geological adventure this mountain offers.  The trail starts across the road from the parking lot in a relatively flat, cactus laden stretch of iconic red soil split by ribbons of deeply eroded washes.  It climbs slowly straight to the base of the mountain comprised of heavily eroded cliffs of Schnebly Hill Sandstone.  A steep 400 ft climb brings me to a distinct ledge of Apache Limestone that has resisted erosion enough to create a relatively level path along the wall of the cliffs above.The first dramatic views from Bear Mountain

It’s Sedona, so I’m already impressed by the views and stopping to take pictures.  The rocky trail is more narrow and overgrown through this section and I am careful to watch for the cairns as I find myself nearly following false trails here and there.  This shelf ends at a narrow cut in the mountain side where the trail begins another steep climb.  I’m excited to see a trail becoming more technical and interesting.  As I hoist myself up out of the ravine and on to the first plateau, I’ve left the cactus behind.  Though there are still Agave, the low-land cactus has been replaced with Manzanita…and lots of it.

rocky trail to scramble to the main deckThe views on this first plateau are impressive, but I know I’ve barely started my climb.  I was anxious to see more.  This is the first place I run in to fellow hikers on their way back down.  A hundred yards or so later I run in to another couple resting further up the trail.  The deck at this section of Bear Mountain is a transition from the Schnebly Hill Sandstone to the very orange Coconino Sandstone.  The scrubby Manzanita is thick across this deck, but still relatively treeless.  Following the cairns carefully, the trail climbs another 500ft or so through a maze of rock and brush across a steeply inclined deck.  The rock gets lighter as you climb eventually revealing a twisted section of sandstone, bleached almost white, turned on it’s side and eroded to reveal etched swirls and striations unlike anything else I’ve seen in Sedona.

This section of the mountain becomes very narrow with sheer cliffs falling into twisted red canyons below on either side.  You gotta follow the trail on the 3D map below to get a good feel for this narrow bridge of rock.  It really was amazing to walk a few feet in either direction and be staring down into steep canyons, each with very unique character.

This is also where the trees start to occur.  I found myself scouting for a place to hang the hammock on the return hike.  It was a meager selection at first, with solitary trees perched here and there.  After more climbing, however, the trees became a little thicker and stronger and options were starting to present themselves.

There is a plateau that sort of presents itself as a false-peak.  In fact, when I got the plateau there were a couple of guys there resting and they announced “you made it!” as if this was the summit and end of the trail.  Clearly, with mountain still above me and my GPS reading that I still had a quarter mile left to go, they were mistaken.  I spent a few minutes taking pictures and soaking in the view from the false-summit but I wanted the top and time was running short.

CLOUDS!This entire time I’d been hiking and watching the clouds far up to the north.  An innocent line of clouds that morning had slowly grown to a picturesque desert sky and then transformed into a black, shadowy mass pulsing with flashes of light and emitting a menacing growl from time to time just to remind me it was coming.  I picked up the pace and made for the summit.  The last push to the top is very different than the rest of the trail.  As I’ve seen in a lot of summit hikes, part of the trail is less traveled, rougher and the cairns are more important to keep on the right path.  The rock here is more broken and loose and the vegetation changes again becoming more scrubby with grasses and Yucca.

Love the flag in the wind and the clouds gathering above...The top is marked with a small pile of rock and a small American Flag.  I paused at the top looking down across the flat, open valley to the southwest.  I stood on a fractured and pitted ledge of stark white Kaibab Limestone at the precipice of a great canyon and watched two hawks chase each other and grapple in the sky below me.  Then as the thunder reminded me of my time frame, I grabbed a few shots of the lone flag at the summit and moved on.

One the way down I found a great spot to hang the hammock overlooking Fay Canyon where I could watch the storm roll in over Wilson Mountain toward Sedona.  I was strapped between two pine trees at a ledge just 20ft or so off the trail and watched a couple of hikers pass below me.  I had a little snack and some water while I rested and watched the clouds move across the horizon, grumbling deeply as it moved, white lightning splitting the sky.

Before too long, I packed up my stuff and returned to my march down the mountain.  I picked up the pace, jogging through the flat parts and scrambling through the more technical sections.  Before I knew it was back to the narrow climb to the main deck, quickly working my way down I was back to the foot of the mountain in no time and headed to the truck just as the first drops of rain were starting to fall.

I drove back into Sedona through intermittent rain.  I stopped in to the Hike House again to say goodbye and grabbed a smoothie for the ride home since I wasn’t really feeling up to a full dinner.

watching the storm come in from my hammock

Bear Mountain really is a great summit hike for Sedona.  It is a very unique experience in place where unique experiences abound.  I think next time I will want to hike Fey Canyon and Boynton Canyon, the two dramatic canyons on the north side of Bear Mountain that offered such amazing views.

Bear Mountain – Red Rock Secret Mountain Wilderness.

Plenty of trailhead parking. From Sedona take Highway 89A west to Dry Creek Road.  Follow until it dead-ends and make a left on to Boynton Pass Road toward Boynton Canyon.  Another left at the next intersection will take you to the trailheads for Boynton Canyon, Fey Canyon then Bear Mountain and Doe Mountain.  There is a small parking area, bathrooms and a Red Rock Pass purchase booth at the trailhead.

Trail Length: 5 mile round-trip (as described here)
Elevation Gain: 1,800 feet
Difficulty: moderate to strenuous
Open: Year-round but not suggested during winter when snow is expected.

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Hiking a Pennsylvania Landmark: Mount Nittany Trail…

A little History…

Nittany Mountain has been an important part of the history and traditions of Penn State University since it’s founding.  In 1945, the landowners who held rights to Nittany Mountain were preparing to sell the property and timber rights to a logging operation.  Rather than see their beloved mountain stripped of all it’s trees for profit, local Penn State Lion’s Paw Alumni Association (LPAA) scrambled to buy the land.  By 1946 they had raised enough money to purchase 525 acres encompassing the Nittany Mountain ridge and surrounding area.  In 1981, LPAA formed the Mount Nittany Conservancy (MNC) in order to acquire additional land. With community and alumni support, the Conservancy has acquired an additional 300 acres.  The MNC vigilantly continues to maintain and protect the trails and ecosystem of their beloved mountain.

A Local Landmark…

As the most prominent ridge situated between Nittany Valley and Penns Valley, Mount Nittany has been a landmark with it’s own set of legends and traditions since long before European settlement in the area.  Though little more than a hill at less than 1,000 ft above the valley floor, Mount Nittany is still a looming presence and visual landmark in State College and the surrounding area.  The Juniata maintained a tribal legend about the formation of the mountain involving the death of a young Brave named Lion’s Paw and his heart-broken maiden named Nit-A-Nee, the obvious namesake of the mountain and adjacent valley.  Penn State University’s mascot and athletic teams, the Nittany Lions, are also derived from this same legend.  These local legends have been intricately woven into the traditions of Penn State University since the school’s founding in 1855.

Interesting Geology…

Nittany Mountain (also called Mount Nittany locally) is a significant ridge in the Ridge-and-Valley Province of the Appalachians.  The Ridge-and-Valley Province is a section of geology literally squeezed between the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Appalachian Plateau. The present formations are remnants of sedimentary structures that have been folded westward and eroded.  The ridges are merely areas that have resisted erosion due to veins of the more durable Bald Eagle Sandstone.  The Ridge-and Valley Appalachians stretch from southeastern New York through Western Pennsylvania and south to Alabama.

The Trail…

We had promised Jason we would go hiking while we were in town.  We had looked at some options but, not knowing the area very well, we opted for the most recognizable and easy to get to trail in the area: Mount Nittany Trail.  My fiancé, Merelyn, and I were in Pennsylvania for her 20 year High School reunion and visiting with family in State College before and after a trip to Erie for the reunion.  The day before we picked up her nephew Jason for a hike up Mt. Nittany, we had hiked up a new road blazed up the mountain on her parent’s property in Centre Hall.  The hike took us to the ridgeline above their home, the same ridge (we later realized) that terminates at Mt. Nittany.

We picked up Jason from swim practice early in the morning and drove out to the trailhead in Lamont.  Jason had hiked here before and was able to help direct us to the trailhead.  Access winds through a few neighborhoods to a small parking area along the side of the road.  The trailhead itself if marked with a large map and directions and there are small maps available to take with you.  Jason was pretty tired from swimming so we opted for a short tour of trails.  We’d hike up the main trail to the first overlook at Mt. Nittany proper, overlooking Penn State then see if we could talk Jason in to doing more.

The trail is very rocky, as is most of this part of Pennsylvania.  Though steep, the trail is well-worn and popular with the locals.  Blue and white paint markers on the trees guide you along the trail system to make it easier to track which part of the trail you’re on.  We followed the blue markers up the steep trail, feeling old and out of shape huffing and puffing next to the 12-year-old casually walking up the trail next to us.

Hiking this trail in summer provides a thick, green canopy offering plenty of shade.  Once you’ve reached the ridge, the trail changes character slightly and narrows as the vegetation presses in.  Just after reaching the ridge you come to the main overlook, the reason, I’m sure, that the trail exists…the view of Penn State.  Named the Mike Lynch Overlook, the trees open up to a small landing at the head of Nittany Mountain offering an open view to State College and the Penn State Campus below.  It would seem, and Jason confirmed, that most people hike to this overlook for the view of Penn State and then turn back.  There is considerably less traffic on the rest of the trail system.

After a short rest and some pictures, Jason was content to head back to the car.  We prodded him to continue on and let us see some more of the mountain.  He agreed to put in a little more trail time to get to the next overlook.  Almost half a mile further down the trail we reached the next clearing, an opening with a view out over Boalsburg and the Mt. Nittany Middle School.  This is also a great spot to stop and just soak in the view.  I commented to Merelyn that this would be a nice place to hammock for the afternoon, several of the trees were perfectly placed for a good hang.

Jason and Merelyn on the Mt Nittany TrailThough Merelyn and I wanted to explore further, we were running out of time and Jason was running out of steam.  So we headed back, happily hiking along under the thick green canopy and visiting with Jason.  We picked up speed on the steep section toward the trailhead and Jason enjoyed keeping up with me as we finished the trail in a strong running pace on a narrow single track side trail in the trees.  We finished strong, downed some water and hopped in the car so we could get Jason back in time for his other teenage summer break obligations (which seem to keep him very busy).

There are about 8 miles or so worth of trails in the Conservancy and the full perimeter loop is nearly 5 miles.  Hopefully, next time we’re out in Pennsylvania we can find the time to at least do the full loop and maybe even explore some of the inner trails as well.  It’s a beautiful area, I’m looking forward to seeing more.

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Tenderfoot…

my Cattle Dog on the trail

According to Wikipediatenderfoot is slang for an inexperienced person, particularly one who is not adapted to a rural or outdoor lifestyle setting.

Wiley the Cattle Dog enjoying the hikeI mentioned Saturday that I am starting to train my Australian Cattle Dog, Wiley, to be a trail dog.  She’s admittedly overweight, uncoordinated and….a tenderfoot.  She has only been on a couple of hikes in her life, and those were many years ago.  Since then, she has been relegated to a few sporadic neighborhood walks.  Knowing this, I am taking steps to take her training slow and make sure she builds the physical conditioning she needs to conquer the trails.

I may have overdone it a little yesterday.

He first conditioning hike was only about 1.7 miles and, though a good climb, was on a mostly paved surface.  She did well and other than being tired, didn’t show any real signs of wear-and-tear.  So when it came time for our next hike together I decided to push a little more and get her out on some real dirt and double our distance.  We did a moderate 3.4 mile hike with a good mixture of flat hiking, climbing and descending.  The terrain was a mix of soft dirt, rocky dirt, gravel trail and, in some spots, eroded and broken down asphalt.

My little tenderfoot is, literally, a tenderfoot today.  Her pads are a little chewed up from the trail and she is walking very gingerly around the house today.  She is obviously sore and stiff and only gets up to move when she feels she needs to.  I think I overdid it.

Wiley is showing signs of fatigueLessons learned: 3.4 miles is outside her comfort zone right now.  She started showing signs of fatigue around 2-2.25 miles.  So, for now at least we will keep her training limited to 1.5-2.5 miles until she shows me she can handle those distances with ease.

For now, does anyone have any advice for treating her sore, chewed up little paws?  My understanding is that giving a dog pain relievers is not a good idea (no Ibuprofen for her!).  I am giving her treats with supplements for her joints, which should help long term.

As always, any advice or tips are welcome.

Tom’s Thumb and the quest for the Ogre’s Den…

My most recent quest to the McDowell’s led me to the steep trail up the boulder-clad, granite mountainside, toward the fork that would take me either east to Goat Hill, Hog Heaven and the East End or west to Windgate Pass.  My destination lied just north of the well-traveled ridge-line path to Windgate Pass.  I would journey in the shadow of the Glass Dome, along the Gardner’s wall, skirting the massive granite promontory known as Tom’s Thumb on my way to The Rist…where I would seek out the Ogre’s Den.

I love creative landmark names and some of the best names on the planet come from river runners and rock climbers.  It just so happens that the granite-strewn north end of the McDowell Mountain Range in North Scottsdale is a climbers heaven.  The north slope of the range, where my trail would take me, is littered with massive chunks of granite rock.  Some are huge exposed monoliths like Tom’s Thumb, a 150ft geological feature that is easily recognizable from almost anywhere in the valley.  Others are piles of jumbled boulders that have collapsed on each other creating a virtual playground for rock climbers.

As I had agreed to drop off some friends to an afternoon of drinking in Scottsdale, I decided I would take advantage of the opportunity and hike the trail to Tom’s Thumb.  I have visited Tom’s Thumb before, many, many years ago when I was new to the valley and had no idea what this massive feature was.  I simple knew I had seen it many times when driving in north Scottsdale and was curious as to what it looked like up close.  Not knowing, or being aware, of any trail I simply parked my truck and climbed the mountainside to reach the huge granite feature.  That was nearly 15 years ago. Now, I know the valley and I know many of the trails and landmarks and I wanted to revisit this iconic destination again…on the official trail.

horses grazing along the access roadSo I drove down the unimproved, dirt road past private property, commercial sub-divisions and open grazing land to the base of the mountain.  The area is now part of the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, and there are designated trails and official rules regarding the use of the area.  Due to some construction near-by, there is a temporary access parking area for Tom’s Thumb located at the end of 128th street (signs are posted to guide you).  The parking area would potentially hold about 10-12 vehicles but there is a smaller overflow parking area just before you get to the main one which I would guess holds about 4-6 vehicles.  Luckily, this trail is not very crowded and not often accessed from the north side.  Especially when you get to visit the trail mid-week, as I did.

The trail starts at the northwest corner of the main parking area.  There is a sign to mark the way and also warns to clean up after your pets (thank you very much).  It’s a relatively easy walk at first until the trail turns sharply south and begins the switchback up the mountain.  It’s not a long trail, but it does climb aggressively up.  There are some great little side trails to small lookouts that offer great vantage points to the north.  If you’re willing to wander off trail a little, the route offers some very unique and interesting boulders and rock formations.

The main trail to the ridge-line splits and heads east to larger rock formations and climbing areas while the western trail heads further into the preserve toward Tom’s Thumb, Windgate Pass and the Gateway Trails.  There is a sign along the main trail that tells you where to turn off to visit Tom’s Thumb and the Gardner’s Wall.  Tom’s Thumb is impressive, but unless you have your climbing gear with you and the experience to use it there’s not much to do there.  I stopped at a nice boulder pile just south of Tom’s Thumb and climbed around for a while practicing some basic bouldering skills.  As I played among the boulders, I had a visitor.  Considering I had only seen one other person, an older man walking his dog, on the trail that day I was surprised to have someone appear on the trail with me.  We crisscrossed each other’s paths a couple of times before the young woman asked if I’d been here before then asked,  “Do you know where the cave is?”

I did not know where the cave was…but I had heard about it.  The Ogre’s Den is a small cave located “just off the trail past Tom’s Thumb“, according to the hiking books.  The challenge had been offered and I accepted, we WOULD find the Ogre’s Den.  Armed with an impressively vague description and no real idea where to look or what to look for, we set out “past Tom’s Thumb” to look for the cave.  I admit that I wandered cluelessly across the ridge to nearly every pile of boulders that could possibly house a small cave.  The only other clue we had was that there was supposedly wall paintings and artwork in the Ogre’s Den and as we both searched we hoped it would be obvious once it revealed itself.

We decided quickly that we had searched too far from Tom’s Thumb and headed back, hiking around the south side of The Rist where, on a hunch, I followed a small game-trail up the south side of The Rist and stumbled upon a shallow hollow in the rock, with a well-worn floor and artwork painted on the rock walls.  I called my discovery down to my new companion who quickly scrambled up the path to join me in the Ogre’s Den.  We spent a few minutes exploring the small cave, finding a small shelf in the rock where past visitors have left offerings, presumably to the resident Ogre.  There is also a small decorative box next to a pile of spent ballpoint pens, with paper on which to scrawl your appeals to fickle Ogre.

Tom's Thumb monument

Tom’s Thumb…

I climbed out of the cave through a small crag above the offering shelf and found myself at the shoulder of the main trail through The Rist.  I had passed within feet of the Ogre’s Den and had never suspected it’s location was so close.  Laughing at my own inability to discover the feature we were after, we headed back the way we had come.  My new friend had parked at the same trailhead and I now had a trail companion on the return to my truck.  As much as I am a fan of solo-hiking, there is something fun about meeting a fellow hiker, sharing conversation and swapping stories.  Especially when you’ve just successfully completed a quest together!

Tom’s Thumb – McDowell Sonoran Preserve

Scottsdale, Arizona

Some trailhead parking. From Phoenix head east on 101 to Pima, north on Pima Road to Dynamite and east on Dynamite to 128th Street.  Head south on the unimproved dirt road following the signs to the parking lot trailhead.

Trail Length: 3 mile round-trip (without the extra wandering around)
Elevation Gain: 1,000 feet
Difficulty: Easy at the top, moderate to strenuous up the mountain
Open: Year-round.

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Gear Review: Manduka eKO SuperLite® Travel Mat…

Yoga gear and apparel provider, Manduka (@MandukaYoga) recently started a regular contest on their Facebook Page for 2012.  The nature of their “Happy YOU Year” contest is to “Tell us what you plan to do, or be, in 2012” and every day that week they were giving “a Manduka gift to help that intention become reality“.  An amazing and honorable, well-intentioned promotion that I really thought had a great message behind it.  So I entered a comment explaining my plan to bring Yoga Practice to the hiking and backpacking community to promote better health and fitness.  Well, my story won their attention on that particular day and they announced they were sending me their lightweight travel mat!  This was the perfect choice to help bring Yoga to the trail.

The eKO SuperLite® Travel Mat is made of natural tree rubber and is a 100% “biodegradable rubber that won’t fade or flake” and offers “superior grip“.  The mat is very light for a Yoga mat (2lbs) and is as flexible as a towel or blanket.  It easily folds, rolls or wraps up into any duffel, case or backpack.  They come in a variety of colors and all have the awesome “Upward Frog” Manduka logo.  The mat doesn’t offer a great deal in the way of padding, but it’s the trade-off for having the luxury of being able to take the mat virtually anywhere.

I’ve been able to use the mat several times now, some inside just to try it and some outside. I’ve only had it out on the trail once so far and I loved it.  It was just enough padding to soften the rock outcropping I used it on.  It also packed easily, I simply folded it in half and then rolled it like a bed-roll and strapped it in to the pack where the bed-roll would usually go – perfect!  I imagine being able to use it as an extra layer under an inflatable sleeping pad on overnight trips.  It would protect the inflatable from potential puncture issues and the grip would keep things from sliding around in the tent.  And it would be there waiting for me in the morning for some nice tent-side Sun Salutations!

So far I am really happy with this generous gift from Manduka and would recommend it to anyone interested in making trail-side Yoga a part of their hiking and camping experience.

Manduka eKO SuperLite® Travel Mat – $39

Manduka Sojourner Package – $60 (normally $75)

Soldier Pass and Brin’s Mesa Trails- Sedona, Arizona

Red Rocks from Soldier Pass - Sedona, Arizona

“This here…”, he said pointing to my map sprawled across the table. “..This here is the sink hole, Devil’s Kitchen.  We just came back from there.  Even if you don’t do the trail, it’s worth checking out….only a hundred yards or so up from the trailhead.”

Devil’s Kitchen is the ominous name given to the only sink hole in the Sedona area.  It sits right at the base of a small peak, known as The Sphinx, that marks the beginning of Soldier Pass Trail.  I had stopped in to what has become my regular pre-hike stop to seek trail suggestions and get updates on road and trail conditions around Sedona.  The Hike House has only been around about a year and half, but seems to have a very passionate, knowledgeable and helpful staff.  I’ve stopped in here before every hike in this area since my first hike up Mund’s Wagon Trail. As I was reviewing trail suggestions, an older couple walked in who had just returned from hiking Soldier Pass that morning and were more than happy to offer their vote for the trail.

“It’s really something to see…”, the older gentleman went on about the sink hole. “…all the rock just lying there where it collapsed probably thousands of years ago.  Worth a look.”

So, with multiple endorsements for Soldier Pass and an opportunity to make it a more substantial hike by combining the entirety of the Brin’s Mesa Trail, I folded up my trusty map and headed out.  Easily enough, the parking lot and trailhead for Soldier Pass Trail (and several connected trails) is just up Soldier Pass Road off of the main drag heading west from Sedona.  A short drive through a small subdivision delivers you to a modest, gated parking area that defines the trailhead to Soldier Pass.  It’s a well maintained dirt parking area with defined parking stalls, signs and maps but I can see how it’s dozen or so vehicle capacity would be grossly inadequate during peak season.  From what I’ve heard, this place is literally crawling with tourists hiking and biking the trails during the peak season.

Soldier Pass - Sedona, ArizonaThere were a handful of cars in the parking lot when I arrived.  Mid-morning, mid-week, off-season I didn’t expect to see a lot of people out but I knew I wasn’t going to be completely alone on the trail.  The morning was a beautiful 67 degrees when I hopped out of the truck and packed a few essentials, and non-essentials, into my new Osprey Exos34 (yes, I am testing out a new pack and so far loving it).  I slung the new pack over my shoulders and took a few minutes to adjust it properly for it’s maiden voyage then headed out.  Just as you get started there is a plaque on a boulder stating the trail was dedicated in 1995.  The trail’s construction, signage, and markers were apparently a cooperative effort between the Friends of the Forest and the Famous Red Rock Jeep Tours.  A short walk down the well maintained trail quickly brings you face to face with the Devil’s Kitchen.  I really wished I’d been properly equipped with a good wide-angle lens in order to capture the gaping hole properly.  Aside from the hole itself, the most significant feature is a huge triangular-shaped slab of stone that collapsed in one massive chunk around 1970 and is often referred to as The Grand Piano.  Contrary to the dramatic “…all the rock just lying there where it collapsed probably thousands of years ago” promise, reports are that the sink hole collapsed sometime in the 1880′s.

coffee pot from Soldier Pass - Sedona, Arizona

I spent a few short minutes trying desperately to capture the sink hole properly with my insufficient equipment before giving up and moving on to Soldier Pass Trail.  In the 1860′s and 70′s, General Crook and his men would make camp along this trail down in the wash.  They would use the area as a resting point to hunt and fish on their way up from Fort Verde (now Camp Verde) and called the area Camp Garden.  General Crook used an existing Apache trail leading up over the pass to raid the Apache food stores in an effort to roost them out of the area and coax them into moving to the Reservation.  In later years, Soldier’s Pass would be used by local ranchers to move their cattle out of the canyon and up to cooler elevations during the warmer months.

I plodded along the trail happily soaking up the late morning sun and enjoying being on the trail.  I walked right past where the Seven Sacred Pools are supposed to be…mainly because I didn’t know exactly what I was looking for and partly because there is no water this time of year.  So the Seven Sacred Pools are more like the Seven Sacred Dimples in the sandstone and were thus, missed.  There is a point about a half mile or so in where the trail seems to split.  One trail clearly heading in toward the canyon and the other trail heading up.  As I walked along Soldier’s Pass, higher along the trail I remember looking east toward several significant natural arches in the cliff-side and thinking, “damn, I wish I could get over there and check those out.”  Turns out, you can!  The trail I saw that seemed to lead into the canyon is a short hike to the arches/caves in the side of the cliff below Brin’s Mesa.  I WILL have to go back to check those out.

coffee pot from Soldier Pass - Sedona, Arizona

Soldier Pass is a relatively easy trail, the beginning of the trail is not much more than a pleasant walk in scenic country.  But the trail does reach a point where you are climbing pretty steadily to traverse the pass.  It’s at this point where the views become impressive.  Looking back the way you came, the view opens into a wide panorama of the Sedona Valley.  You get a full view down the valley into Oak Creek Canyon, across the airport plateau, and beyond.  There are also a ton of great spots to stop and have lunch, rest, enjoy the view and snap off a few pictures.  However, I imagine this area is uncomfortably crowded in the peak tourist season and I wouldn’t stop here.

Sedona Brins Mesa Trail - Sedona, Arizona

Brin’s Mesa Trail…

Once up and over the pass it’s a short slightly downhill walk to the intersection with the Brin’s Mesa Trail.  This trail climbs from FR152 on the west end up the mesa and around the ridge the that dominates the east side of Soldier Wash.  Soldier Pass Trail hits Brin’s Mesa Trail just about in the middle.  Heading right, takes you up across the mesa and down Mormon Canyon to Jordan/Cibola Trails where you can cut back to the Soldier Pass trailhead and parking area.  Heading left will take you out to FR152 and deeper into the Wilderness area.  I chose to add the miles and explore Brin’s Mesa Trail both directions, taking it out toward FR152 first and then returning back the same way past Soldier Pass and up the mesa.  Brin’s Mesa trail has a different character to the west, down the hill.  It repeatedly crosses a small tributary of Dry Creek and during the wet season would probably be a lot of fun.  As it is, the trail is very nice.  You spend most of your time in the trees, a rarity for most of Arizona, and the ground ranges from slightly rocky to soft sand.  This was an easy, quiet, pleasant hike and I found myself lost in my own thoughts, ambling freely down the trail simply enjoying the solitude.  Before I knew it I had reached FR152 and the end of the trail.  I unstrapped the pack, dug out a few snacks and plopped down on a slab of red sandstone for a quick break.  After helping a few lost hikers and bikers who weren’t quite sure where they were, I pulled my pack back on and headed up the trail.

In no time at all, it seemed, I was back at the intersection of Brin’s Mesa and Soldier Pass.  Someone had scrawled arrows in the loose dirt of the trail pointing in the direction of Soldier Pass.  Apparently, it easy to miss your turn if you are planning on heading the opposite way I went and down Soldier’s Pass.  The sign at this connection does show arrows for following both trails, so just pay attention to the signs and it shouldn’t be a problem.  I did run in to a few folks all the way at the far end of Brin’s Mesa Trail who were wondering how they missed Soldier Pass.

Getting higher up on to the Mesa you can see the remnants of trees burned out in the fire on Wilson Mountain in 2006.  Much of the undergrowth and many of the trees have started to come back, but there is still a great deal of dead sticks standing along the foothills of the mountain.  The dead trees I encountered along Brin’s Mesa are presumably casualties of the same 2006 fire.  The views from the mesa are fantastic and I found a perfect little knoll to the west of the trail that overlooks Soldier Wash Canyon to stop for a little mid-hike yoga practice.  This is the first time I have actually stopped mid-hike for yoga practice but the location was perfect and I had brought along my new light-weight Manduka travel mat just for this purpose.  The setting was perfect for it, I couldn’t pass it up.  I also found it to be incredibly effective for renewing my energy for the hike.  After my short break, I continued my hike across the mesa.  As the trail reaches the edge of the mesa, before plunging into Mormon Canyon, the view down the valley opens up again.  As before at Soldier Pass, this is the photographer’s vantage point.  Take time here to snap off a few impressive shots.

The climb descending down into Mormon Canyon was similar to Soldier Pass, it was a quick descent that mellowed out and turned into an easy path.  It quickly crawled through the trees offering glimpses of Cibola Rock and Steamboat Rock, the two dominant rock formations above this the trail.  It connects to Cibola Trail just before the Jordan Trail Parking lot.  This parking lot is paved and much larger than the Soldier Pass parking lot with bathrooms.  If the Soldier Pass lot is full, one could easily park here and traverse Cibola trail before heading up Soldier Pass.

Cibola trail is a nice short connector trail that cuts across a low pass to join Jordan Trail which I took back to the trailhead at Soldier Pass.  It starts off easy enough but has a bit of a climb in the middle to get over the pass.  It’s not difficult, nor long but it was described by an older lady I encountered on the trail as “a strenuous hike”, so I guess it’s all relative.  I ended the hike in great spirits, happy to have spent the afternoon on the trail and looking forward to a beautiful Nut Brown Ale from Oak Creek Brewery.  The perfect way to end a day of hiking in Sedona.

 

Soldier Pass to Brin’s Mesa – Red Rock Secret Mountain Wilderness.

Some trailhead parking. From Sedona take Highway 89A west to Soldier Pass Road.  There is a small, gated parking area and a Red Rock Pass purchase booth at the trailhead.  The parking area closes at 6PM.

Trail Length: 8.8 mile round-trip (as described here)
Elevation Gain: 700 feet
Difficulty: Easy to moderate
Open:
Year-round but very crowded during peak season.

 

 

Devil’s Bridge – Sedona, Arizona…

The Devil’s Bridge is a small natural bridge located in the Secret Canyon area of Sedona, Arizona.  Even if it doesn’t offer the grandeur of some of the more famous sandstone arches, it’s still the largest natural stone arch around Sedona.  The trail is located a few miles up FR152, a sketchy dirt road that can easily be impassable in, or after, bad weather and which is often closed when there’s snow.  Even dry, the dirt road is rocky, uneven, narrow in places with patches of deep sand.  A 4-wheel-drive is usually recommended but I did see plenty of 2-wheel-drive weekend warriors making their way out there with little trouble.

I had to travel to Sedona for work, and after my morning meeting had a few hours to kill.  Not nearly enough time to get in a good long hike in the back-country around Sedona, but enough time to hit a small target like Devil’s Bridge.  The total trail isn’t much more than a mile round trip.  After paying for my Red Rock Pass, I wanted to add a little more distance on to the hike, so I drove a short ways down 152 and found a good spot to park my truck so I could hoof-it the rest of the way to the trailhead.  For those who wouldn’t want to add the mileage, there is a small area at the trailhead to park maybe 5 or 6 cars off the road.  The trailhead is clearly marked and the trail itself is very well established.

The hike was little more than a walk, but a nice walk in incredibly scenic country.  It is a consistent and gradual uphill climb twisting along a fairly wide path with the occasional stone ledge cutting the trail.  After a short hike up the trail, you enter the Red Rock Secret Mountain Wilderness area.  This is right about the time you can get your first glimpse of the natural bridge from the trail.  It doesn’t look like much from out along the trail, the real drama of the arch is experienced up close.

Stacked stone stairs…

The trail forks as it approaches the arch.  The left trail wanders down easily to the bottom of the Natural Bridge formation.  I didn’t go this way.  The trail to the right climbs very quickly to a ledge that allows you to approach the bridge from above.  The trail literally climbs a series of stone stairs stacked into the cliff-side to reach the top.  It’s actually a really well made and maintained trail that leads to the top and brings you up close and personal with the top of Devil’s Bridge.  As a Winter hike, this spot spends almost the entire day in shadow and can get pretty cold.  It was almost 70 degrees out when I hiked this trail, but in the shadow of the adjacent ridge there was still ice on part of the trail that had not melted away from the previous month’s snowfall.  As most of the other hikers ambled along in their jackets and sweaters I bounded up the steps in my t-shirt and shorts in an effort to keep the cold from getting to me.

Once at the top, getting cold in the shadow of the mountain, phone/camera dying, running out of time, I really wished I had planned better and could spend a couple of hours here.  I would have liked to explore the arch, take my time getting some really nice photos and maybe even have lunch.  Instead, I snapped a couple of pictures until my phone died completely, then headed back.

Maybe next time…

Devil’s Bridge – Red Rock Secret Mountain Wilderness.

Some trailhead parking. From Sedona take Highway 89A west to Dry Creek Road.  Look for FR 152 on the right, there is a small parking area and a Red Rock Pass purchase booth.  You can hike from here or drive the 1.5 miles or so to the trailhead parking area.

Trail Length: 1 mile round-trip (from the trailhead)
Elevation Gain: 700 feet
Difficulty: Easy
Open:
Year-round but road may be closed in poor weather.

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Big Jim Trail


This hike was specifically chosen to satisfy two main desires I had in selecting a hike.  First, that there was a peak to summit.  I had been toying with the idea of focusing on peakbagging in the mountains around Phoenix, and this was the first hike I specifically chose based on that goal.  Second, it was a very obscure trail that has seen very little traffic.  I really wanted to hike a trail in an area new to me on a trail that was not heavily used nor established.  Big Jim Peak sits about 6 miles into a remote portion of desert called Hell’s Canyon Wilderness west of Lake Pleasant along Cottonwood Creek, north of the Phoenix Metro area.

Singer ‘Walkin’ Jim Stolz hiked more than 28,000 of trail before his death in 2010.  Walkin’ Jim Loop is named for this intrepid outdoorsman, adventurer, singer and author.  The trail was originally blazed by Bob Greg and named after Jim Stolz with the latter’s permission.  Jim later accepted Bob’s invitation to hike the trail with him in 2010 shortly before his death.

I was planning on doing this hike with a small group, but as often happens, people slowly began to back out.  When I finally accepted that I was going to be hiking alone, in an unknown wilderness area, I began to doubt the trip and almost backed out myself.  I collected information, maps and researched the trail and the area.  The morning of the hike, I came very close to cancelling.  Then, ridiculous as it may sound, I thought of my dad…and the idea of backing away from a challenge because of ‘the unknown’ suddenly seemed unreasonable.  So, I grabbed my gear and followed the directions to the trailhead.

There are old ranch roads that traverse this wilderness area.  The whole area used to be cattle land and there are still some wild cattle loose in the area, as well as wild burros and a variety of other wildlife.  The trail actually crosses some old homestead sites deep in the wilderness with partial fences, debris and artifacts littered about the clearings.  The trail is fairly well worn in the beginning and crosses Cottonwood Creek a couple of times.  As it takes you further into the desert, the signs of use diminish and the trail becomes more overgrown.  It became clear to me a couple of miles in the that main use of the trail was by the local wildlife, not humans, and I was forced to stoop below branches and push through overgrown brush.

My Trail Journal and topo map with route...

I had marked my route beforehand on a fairly detailed topo map, and was able to follow the trail easily despite it’s spotty and faint appearance.  In places, the trail can disappear completely but is marked relatively well with cairns for those with a careful enough eye to catch them.  There were portions of this trail where the only way to continue the route was to walk from cairn to cairn.  The topo map was invaluable at times, and allowed me to triangulate my position and reorient myself.

The trail itself is a lot of fun.  The terrain changes repeatedly, the trail wanders through dense Mesquite forests, crosses dry and wet creeks and washes, climbs up and over various rock formations covered with a variety of lichen and drop in and out of several small canyons.  The trail is very remote, and one of the few places where I really noticed the silence.  Desert silence is a strange thing, and unique.  Occasionally, I could hear the motor of 4×4 vehicles in use on some of the old, abandoned ranch roads.

About 4 miles in, there is a sign marking the side trail to Big Jim Peak (peak 3465).  The Peak dominates the horizon for a couple of miles prior to this intersection.  The peak trail actually heads across the foothills of this small range and into a canyon just below the peak.  From here it snakes up the canyon to a saddle between the peak and the rest of the ridge.  The trail ends here.

Hiking to the peak is a trailblazing challenge, forcing you to make your own way through the scrub brush and grasses.  There are some cairns along the way to help remind you that you are going in the right direction.  I eventually crested the craggy rock that surrounds the peak, and was able to boulder hop to the highest point.  With a little searching, I was able to find the hidden glass jar with the peak ledger in it.  It had rained the previous week so the ledger was still slightly wet and I had trouble writing my name on the page.  The last entry was from October of 2008.  Though I’m sure there had been other visitors, the idea of being the first one on this summit in over 2 years was exciting.

I pulled off my pack and spent some time at the top watching eagles hunt along the cliffs below my position.  I dug my lunch out of the pack and found a relatively flat rock to sit and enjoy my lunch.  From the peak, I had a great view of Lake Pleasant to the East and the remaining desert wilderness to the west.  It’s a fantastic vantage point and I was disappointed I had decided not to bring my good camera.  I laid down on a boulder for a bit to enjoy the sun.  When I decided to start down, I sat up and grabbed my gear and felt a sharp sting on the back of my thigh.  The intricate, animated dance that followed had to have looked insane.  luckily, I was alone and by the time I had stripped out of my pants the only evidence left of my visitor was the barb and venom sack still pulsating from the scorpion that got me.  I had never been stung by a scorpion before, but living in Arizona, you know what the dangers are and I now had a sense of urgency to get back to civilization.  I had no idea if I was allergic, or if my body would react weird to the sting and I was 6.5 miles from my truck.

The return hike was a little of a blur.  Mostly just pushing hard to get back.  I was running low on water, it had gotten warm out since I had started my hike and I was feeling fuzzy.  I don’t know if it was lack of water, fatigue or the scorpion but the hike back was way harder than the hike in.  When I finally got back to my truck, I felt relieved.  I downed some Gatorade, loaded my gear and started the drive home.

I estimated the hike would be about 9.8 miles round-trip.  However,  when my GPS died at the peak it read close to 6.5 miles making the round-trip closer to 13 miles.  I really would love to do this hike again when I can spend the night on Big Jim Peak and get some sunrise shots over Lake Pleasant before hiking back.  Hopefully without a scorpion encounter…

Mund’s Wagon Trail – Sedona, Arizona

Sedona is a magical place. It is a world famous tourist destination known for it’s signature red rock cliffs, new-age vibe and artist community.  People from all over the world have made a visit to Sedona’s “Red Rock Country” part of their travel bucket-list.

Sedona was originally homesteaded back in 1876 by JJ Thompson when he claimed squatters rights to land across from today’s Indian Gardens Store.  Just a year prior, scouts from Fort Verde (Camp Verde) were still chasing Tonto Apache through this rugged wilderness.  As people began to move in to the valley, the need arose for a Post Office.  Many of the original names for the Post Office were turned down because they were deemed too long by the government, and so the area was named after TC Schnebly’s wife….Sedona…because it was short enough to fit on a stamp.

I wasn’t originally planning a trip up north, but when I got a call that I was needed on a job site in Sedona for a mid-week meeting I immediately seized the opportunity to get some hiking in.  It’s pretty rough being contractually obligated to visit one of the most beautiful and scenic places on Earth.  The call was for an early morning meeting that would last until about noon.  So the plan was to do the meeting, grab some lunch and then hike part of the Secret Canyon area.  Unfortunately, FR 152 (which in best conditions is still a rugged 4×4 dirt road) was closed and I would either face a long hike in, before I could even get to the trailhead or find another hike.

On a suggestion from some Twitter friends, I stopped by the The Hike House for a map ($15), my Red Rock Pass ($5) and some trail advice (free).  They were very knowledgeable and helpful and were able to point to a handful of trail options that were open, accessible and would fit into my time frame.  I chose to hike Mund’s Wagon Trail which crawls along Schnebly Hill Road (which was also closed).  Looking at the map, I could access Marg’s Draw from a trailhead just blocks away from The Hike House and hike that trail to Mund’s Wagon.

The parking lot for the trailhead was a small gravel patch located a block or so behind a Circle K close to the main road.  I parked, organized my gear, strapped on my new Osprey Mutant 38 (thanks Phil!) and headed out.  Roads were closed and trail conditions were questionable because Sedona had recently seen a decent amount of snow.  However, this day was bright, clear and reasonably warm and there was no snow on the ground where I started.  By the time I got to Marg’s Draw, I started to get glimpses of what I would run in to.  The soil in Sedona is loose, sandy and has enough clay content that it gets very slippery and muddy when wet.  With the previous week’s snow melting, parts of the trail were very slick.  Marg’s Draw is a pretty flat, easy trail that meanders through the short, sparse Juniper and Pine forest and offers some very nice views of Mund’s Mountain.  It’s a pretty low trail, so the views are limited but that allows you to focus on the immediate scenery.  High desert landscape can be very beautiful, especially if you haven’t had much experience with it.  Blooming Agave plants, prickly pear and yucca are sprinkled in to the landscape along with Manzanita and sage brush.

Marg’s Draw Trail passes over Schnebly Hill Road where it connects to the Huckaby Trail.  Taking a left would head you up Huckaby and along Oak Creek.  Mund’s Wagon Trail is to the right and takes you to the main trailhead with parking, picnic tables and an automated kiosk for purchasing your requisite Red Rock Pass.  From here, Mund’s Wagon Trail twists through Bear Wallow Canyon along a small creek in an area called Mund’s Mountain Wilderness.  The creek was mostly frozen but there was still some moving water under the ice.  This trail never really strays too far from Schnebly Hill Road and, in fact, crosses the road several times.  The main rock formation along this trail is Mitten Ridge on the north side of the trail which rises above a lower formation called the Cow Pies. Mitten Ridge is a sliver of Red Rock that towers high above the trail and, this time of year, is in the perfect position to catch the light of the setting sun and I was hoping to time my return to catch a shot of sunset light splashing against the red rock.

As the hike took me deeper in to the canyon, the ascent was gradual but obvious.  The ice in the creek became thicker, the snow on the ground was deeper, the muddy red soil became frozen and hard.  Being in a canyon, and the afternoon getting late, most of the hike was in shade and the cold was creeping in.  As I looked at the map I decided on-the-fly that a good stopping point would be a feature named the Merry-Go-Round.  This is a prominent Red Rock formation sitting on top of a shelf of a harder, lighter sandstone layer that erodes much slower creating  a narrow ledge that completely surrounds the main formation in a rough circle, thus – The Merry-Go-Round.

The Merry-Go-Round

 

This ledge offers some of the best, unobstructed views down the valley and would have been a beautiful place to wait for sunset and get some amazing photos.  I hiked around the Merry-Go-Round for a while and climbed to the top of the main formation where countless people have carved their initials and/or date of their visit into the soft sandstone at the top.  I climbed back down and unpacked my NIKON D70 to get some good shots of the view.  I also took this opportunity to pull out my handy JetBoil and make some hot coco.  Sometimes it’s the simple things, like sitting on a cliff overlooking a scenic canyon with a cup of hot coco at the end of a snow-covered trail.  Priceless!

I didn’t stay long.  The winter sun was setting quickly and I knew I’d be hiking in the dark before I got back to my truck.  I decided, in the interest of time and safety, I would hike back using Schnebly Hill Road instead of the icy trail.  There were still portions of the icy, snow-covered road where footing was questionable.  As the sun disappeared behind the cliffs to the southwest, the temperature dropped significantly and I stopped to unload the cold weather gear so I could finish out the hike comfortably.  The moon was offering enough light to cast a shadow once the sun had dropped below the horizon and I didn’t need to fire up the flashlight until I was close enough to the original trailhead to start double checking the map so I didn’t miss my turn.  I returned to the truck after dark, changed into some warm dry clothes and began the long drive home.

Even though I’ve lived in Arizona for nearly two decades, this was only my second hike in Sedona.  Now that I have an appropriate trail map and a job that will require me to visit, I imagine I’ll be logging a lot more miles in Red Rock Country.

Total Hike: 9.5 miles RT (roughly)